Next car choice: The electric route to 2030


The financial pressures facing UK households mean that drivers are planning to hold onto their current cars for longer than in recent years, the 2022 Report on Motoring has found. But this year has seen a sharp rise in the number of drivers who are planning to switch to a battery-powered electric vehicle when they do decide to move on from their existing model: a record 14% say their next car will be electric, while 15% expect to choose their first electric car within the next five years.

It is encouraging that this pro-electric trend is continuing to gain momentum following the Government’s decision, announced in November 2020, to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. Lower running costs and reduced environmental impact are two of the key reasons drivers give for planning the switch to electric cars, but there remain a number of obstacles to wider take-up. These include concerns about the availability of new electric vehicles, the number of public charge points, not to mention the rising cost of domestic electricity.

The 2022 Report also asked drivers for their views on potential changes in the vehicle tax system, which will be needed as the number of petrol and diesel vehicles on UK roads decreases and fuel duty revenues fall. Most drivers are worried that the introduction of a ‘pay-as-you-drive’ tax regime could lead to an overall increase in taxation levels, but a majority accept that some type of reform is likely to be needed by 2030.

Moving to a new vehicle

In recent years, the number of drivers who plan to change their vehicle in the near future has declined steadily: only 28% of drivers in 2022 say they expect to move to a different model within the next two years compared with 36% in 2019 and 45% in 2018. And this year, 37% of drivers have no plans to change their cars or don’t know when they will do so, up from 33% in both 2021 and 2020, and 25% in 2019.

There are a number of factors underpinning this trend, not least the increased financial pressures associated with the pandemic and the high levels of inflation that have followed in its wake, and which have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. The lack of new vehicles due to a global microchip shortage and a price-inflated used-vehicle market have also contributed to the slump in demand. Additionally, many drivers have simply been using their vehicles less since 2020 due to movement restrictions and a reduction in commuting, so may not feel the need to replace them as soon.

Among drivers who are not planning to change their vehicle in the next five years, the majority (77%) say this is simply because they are happy with their current model. But 14% point to the rising costs of energy and fuel, while 8% blame high second-hand vehicle prices and the same proportion (8%) say their income has reduced as a result of the pandemic.

Looking at drivers who do intend to get a new car in the next five years, 24% say their plans to trade up have been delayed by the pandemic and related issues. Of this group, 47% say they have postponed a change because of high second-hand prices while 38% are driving less as a result of the pandemic. A further 37% say their income has fallen due to Covid-19 and 29% point to problems with the availability of new vehicles.

The rise of electric cars

Fewer drivers than ever plan to buy a conventionally fuelled vehicle as their next car, the 2022 Report has found. This year, just 41% of drivers say their next vehicle will run on petrol – down from 45% in 2021 and 58% back in 2017 – while only 13% will opt for diesel (16% in 2021). Conventional (19%) and plug-in hybrid (10%) vehicles account for a significant portion of preferences, but there has been a sharp rise this year in the number of drivers whose next car is expected to be a pure-electric, battery-powered vehicle. At present, 14% plan to select this option, up from 10% last year and just 3% in 2018.

While a greater than ever proportion of drivers expect to get an electric car next time around, slightly fewer (15%) expect to get one within the next two years compared to what drivers reported last year (17%). There is also a risk the Government's recent ending of the plug-in car grant may dampen enthusiasm in the future.

Last year, the most common reason behind drivers planning to go electric was concern about the environmental impact of petrol and diesel cars, cited by 66% (a figure which has fallen to 57% in 2022). This has been overtaken by the appeal of lower running costs, highlighted by 64% of drivers compared to 52% 12 months ago. This has no doubt been exacerbated by the record-high price of petrol and diesel, coupled with drivers becoming more aware of the cost benefits of electric vehicles.

Being able to charge their cars at home, meanwhile, appeals to 56% of drivers who plan to choose an electric vehicle next. Some 33% say they only drive short distances so will be better suited to electric vehicles, 29% say they are attracted by the fact electric cars have fewer mechanical parts that can go wrong, and 27% like the fact they will not have to pay clean-air zone or congestion charges.

The Report also looked at the reasons why a large majority of drivers – 86% of those that expressed a preference – are not considering an electric vehicle as their next car. Of these drivers, six in 10 (60%) believe there are not enough public charging points, while 51% are concerned about the reliability of the public charging network and 49% are waiting for battery technology to improve the range of electric vehicles.

Some 47% of this group say they are put off by the rising cost of electricity, while 46% are concerned about their ability to make long journeys. But remarkably, fewer drivers this year have been put off by the price of battery-powered cars: only 38% say this is an issue, down from 57% in 2021.

Other concerns include a lack of off-street parking, which would make it hard to charge a vehicle at home (26%) and worries over the complexity of the charging process (19%). What’s more, only 16% of non-electric vehicle drivers perceive public chargers to be easy to use – a group that can be reassured by the 51% of current electric vehicle drivers who do find them easy.

Interestingly, a significant number of drivers who are currently unsure if, or when, they might make the transition to an electric car are looking for guidance and advice from friends and relatives who already own electric vehicles: 57% say they would seek the opinion of someone they know before deciding whether to buy their first battery-powered car. 

The Report found that 62% of drivers have a driveway or garage where they could charge an electric vehicle at home, but 16% can only park on the road – and say no public charge points are available – while 8% rent their homes and cannot therefore install a domestic charge point themselves.

It is worth noting, however, that being able to charge an electric car overnight is not a prerequisite for owning and running such a vehicle provided there are adequate public charging points in the local area at petrol stations and shopping centres, for example. The Report also found that 67% of drivers would want the option of charging their electric vehicles at a public charging forecourt similar to a petrol station.

Finally, even those drivers who are not presently planning to switch to electric cars recognise their benefits: 56% agree such vehicles are better for human health given that they emit no exhaust fumes, 47% accept they have a lower environmental impact than conventionally fuelled alternatives and 29% say they are cheaper to run than petrol or diesel-powered vehicles.

The future of taxation

Given that the number of conventionally fuelled vehicles on the UK’s roads will fall in the years ahead, the Government will need to find new ways of raising tax revenues from motorists as fuel duty receipts decline. At present, duty on petrol and diesel is charged at 52.95p per litre following the Chancellor’s 5p temporary cut in March’s Spring Statement.

One possible solution would involve drivers being charged for the number of miles they drive, with levies potentially changing based on the road type and time of day.

The 2022 Report asked drivers when such a hypothetical change should be made: 52% think a new system should be introduced by 2030, to coincide with the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales, while 22% say they would never wish to see this kind of system implemented.

There are wider concerns about pay-per-mile taxation, however: 75% say they are worried the Government would use an overhaul of vehicle taxation to increase the overall amount that drivers are charged. Two-thirds of drivers (67%) say that money raised from a new system should be at least partly invested in the road network, while 48% agree that vehicles with lower emissions should pay a lower tax rate per mile (24% disagree with this).

More drivers agree (36%) with the idea that a pay-per-mile system would be fairer than the current fuel duty arrangements than disagree (25%) although the remaining 39% are ambivalent or not sure. A third of drivers (32%) say that per-mile charges would encourage them to reduce the number of short car journeys they take, but only 22% would be happy to pay a higher rate to drive during peak periods. Similarly, just 16% say they would be prepared to accept higher charges to drive on motorways than on rural roads.

The Report also looked at drivers’ views on emissions-related charges such as city-centre clean air zones (known as the ultra-low emission zone in London and low-emission zones in four Scottish cities). Only 60% of drivers know whether their car is compliant with the emissions standards enforced in clean-air zones, a figure which rises to 66% for drivers in urban areas, while 37% agree that vehicles with higher emissions should pay a daily charge to enter city centres – although 34% disagree with this statement.

Only 28% of drivers say that such a charge in their local town or city centre would force them to get a compliant vehicle to avoid the extra expense, while 39% say they would not change their car as a result.

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